The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

God Squad Review CIL (Cults)

November 14, 2005 | 80 Comments

A readers asks the Squad to share its thoughts about “how cult-like sects give Christians a bad name.” One of the Squad’s criticisms of cults is that they engage in “brainwashing”: the Squad asserts that “i]f you are separated from those you love, deprived of sleep and told over and over again what to believe, you would almost certainly lose your ability to think critically.”

The reason people fall for cults is not that they have lost their ability to think critically through sleep-deprivation. It is that they long ago lost that ability through the early-childhood brainwashing that instilled whatever crazy superstition the cult is trying replace with its own. A person who has accepted one set of fairy tales with no basis in reality or logic is susceptible to indoctrination in whatever new fantasies any cult has to offer. Although the Squad complains of its “long and distasteful contact with many cults — Christian, Hindu, Jewish,” it could never explain how the alleged “cult” versions of those religions differ, at any level of rationality, from the purported “originals” or from the innumerable “mainstream” sects which comprise each of those faiths.

Comments

80 Responses to “God Squad Review CIL (Cults)”

  1. Mort Coyle
    November 14th, 2005 @ 2:35 am

    Your conclusion is flawed in that it assumes that people who join cults were previously adherents to some other religion. In actuality, people from all kinds of backgrounds, nominally religious and non-religious, join cults. The attraction to a cult usually has more to do with a social need than a theological one.

    There’s a nice little article at Atheism.About.com regarding cults:
    http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/religion/blfaq_religion_cultpsych.htm

    In part, it says:

    “Of those religiously inclined, it would be more likely those who are “religiously confused,” or not already secure and satisfied in a traditional faith, who would be most susceptible to the messages of new movements.

    Where might this confusion come from? America has become more secularized in a variety of ways – and many young people are not receiving much religious education at home. This is true not only for nominally religious families which are gradually moving away from faith, often out of apathy, but also among secular and atheist families suffering from the notion that if they simply ignore religion, it will go away. Ignorant young people are then later faced with aggressive and enthusiastic proselytizers, but are unable to counter such efforts with their own arguments of knowledge or experience. The rise of such religious movements can then be seen as a symptom of growing secularization rather than simply as a backlash.

    A common experience among young people is the search for an identity separate from their parents and unique to themselves. This is related to the issue of alienation in modern society, since such searches for identity were not prevalent in pre-modern cultures where identity and social roles were more rigidly defined. Modern Western culture, however, tends to treat people more impersonally – resulting in both greater alienation and greater need to define oneself personally.”

    People with strong pre-existing religious convictions who already belong to a religious organization are the least likely to be attracted to a cult.

  2. Blu_Matt
    November 14th, 2005 @ 6:21 am

    I’d rather have a lie in of a Sunday morning, so am I right in thinking that traditional Sunday church services can be a considered the tool of a ‘cult’ for depriving people of sleep and telling them over and over what to believe?

  3. Lily
    November 14th, 2005 @ 7:46 am

    No, Blu_Matt. You are just lazy! :)

  4. mark
    November 14th, 2005 @ 8:01 am

    Mort,

    I am reminded of the expression “he who believes in nothing will believe in anything”.

    However, I would argue that a person who has made a decision to be an atheist and has a developed sense of self, is just as insulated as a person whose identity is defined by strong religious convictions.

  5. Kafkaesquí
    November 14th, 2005 @ 8:20 am

    The attraction to a cult usually has more to do with a social need than a theological one.

    Religions construct communal places of worship. Religions enforce rules of a community, marriage contracts and restrictions for contact with non-believers being a few of the more overt ones. Religions offer a sense of identity and participation in some larger body. One might claim religions may have more to do with social needs than theological ones.

    People with strong pre-existing religious convictions who already belong to a religious organization are the least likely to be attracted to a cult.

    I don’t see where TRA attached a level of conviction in those who flock to “cult” faiths. Certainly the disaffected from other religions provide more opportune marks for conversion, but they still cling to at least the fundamental tenets of their original faith, thereby making it easier to replace one doctrine with another. I could even argue such folk are even more irrational then those with strong beliefs, based on the membership they retain to an organization they no longer accept.

  6. SteveR
    November 14th, 2005 @ 9:06 am

    “The attraction to a cult usually has more to do with a social need than a theological one.”

    Let’s not forget Bertrand Russell’s definition of a cult:

    A cult is ANY religion without political power.

  7. Judas
    November 14th, 2005 @ 1:05 pm

    …if you believe in it, it is a religion or perhaps ‘the’ religion; and if you do not care one way or another about it, it is a sect; but if you fear and hate it, it is a cult.

    — Leo Pfeffer.

  8. gravitybear
    November 14th, 2005 @ 1:22 pm

    Mort, basically what you’re saying is that the people least likely to get roped in by a cult are those in whom the PRIOR brainwashing is the strongest.

  9. Mort Coyle
    November 14th, 2005 @ 1:57 pm

    “Religions offer a sense of identity and participation in some larger body. One might claim religions may have more to do with social needs than theological ones.”

    Agreed, which reinforces my point that TRA’s conclusion was flawed. The article I cited points out that an increased level of secularization in society leaves a spiritual void, which the cults can then exploit. The implication is that it’s secularism which puts people in a position of vulnerability to cult evangelism, whereas religious training actually makes people less susceptible to cults.

    “Let’s not forget Bertrand Russell’s definition of a cult:

    A cult is ANY religion without political power.”

    Mr. Russell’s and Mr. Pfeffer’s simplistic definitions aside, there is a set of generally accepted characteristic that define a cult:

    ** The group is focused on a leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.

    ‪** Questioning, doubt, and dissent are forbidden or even punished.

    **‪ Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, denunciation sessions, poor nutrition and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

    ‪** The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry; leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

    ‪** The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar; the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

    ‪** The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society. The group also typically views all other religions as false and apostate.

    ‪** The leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders, ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

    ‪** The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify the means (what members are expected to do). This may result in members participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, collecting money for bogus charities).

    ‪** The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in members in order to influence and control them. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

    ‪** Subservience to the leader/group results in members cutting ties with family, friends, and radically altering personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.

    ‪** The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

    ‪** The group is preoccupied with making money.

    ‪** Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

    ‪** Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

    ‪** The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group, believing there is no other way to be, and often fearing reprisals to self or others if they leave or even consider leaving the group.

  10. Mort Coyle
    November 14th, 2005 @ 2:11 pm

    gravitybear said: “Mort, basically what you’re saying is that the people least likely to get roped in by a cult are those in whom the PRIOR brainwashing is the strongest.”

    Only if you make no distiction between a religion and a cult, which would be a very naive thing to do.

  11. benjamin
    November 14th, 2005 @ 2:44 pm

    It’s easier to slightly alter someone’s beliefs than it is to completely uproot them and replace them with something totally different. That’s why there’s so much paganism in christianity. Thus anyone with a supernatural belief is an easier target for a supernaturally based cult than someone who only believes in reality.

  12. benjamin
    November 14th, 2005 @ 2:49 pm

    Also, someone who is dependent on their church for answers to make them feel secure in their beliefs is at more risk of joining a new cult if/when isolated from their security blanket than someone who is independently secure with their beliefs.

  13. Oz
    November 14th, 2005 @ 5:12 pm

    Someone else once said that a church you were born into is a religion, while a church you join after maturity is a cult.

  14. a different tim
    November 14th, 2005 @ 5:18 pm

    “** The group is focused on a leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment. ”

    Like being prepared to die for him, like St peter.

    ‪”** Questioning, doubt, and dissent are forbidden or even punished.”

    Matthew 10:33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

    “**‪ Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, denunciation sessions, poor nutrition and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).”

    Like fasting 40 days in the wilderness, lent, ramadan etc.

    ‪”** The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry; leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).”

    Like Jewish and Muslim dietary laws. Also my namesake Timothy 5 9-16: When to help a widow.
    You should help a widow only if she 1) is over 60 years old, 2) had only one husband, 3) has raised children, 4) has lodged strangers, 5) has “washed the saints feet,” 6) has relieved the afflicted, and 7) has “diligently followed very good work.” Otherwise, let them starve.

    ‪** The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar; the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity). ”

    Say no more

    ‪”** The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society. The group also typically views all other religions as false and apostate.”

    Luke 11:23 He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.

    ‪”** The leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders, ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).”

    But not the pope. Or Sunni Mullahs. Or Pat Robertson.

    ‪”** The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify the means (what members are expected to do). This may result in members participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, collecting money for bogus charities).”

    I come not to bring peace, but a sword.

    “‪** The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in members in order to influence and control them. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.”

    Like saying at supper, apropos of nothing, that someone there will betray you. And Mark 4.11-4.12 seems pretty manipulative to me.

    “‪** Subservience to the leader/group results in members cutting ties with family, friends, and radically altering personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.”

    Matthew 19.29. Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

    ‪”** The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.”

    I will teach you to be fishers of men.

    ‪”** The group is preoccupied with making money.”

    How rich is the Vatican again? Also see acts 5.1-5.5

    ‪”** Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.”

    Can’t find a direct reference for this. (Any offers?) but the next one and the one about leaving your family seem to add up to it.

    ‪”** Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.”

    Matthew 10.5 (and may I say Matthew seems particularly fertile ground) Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not

    ‪”** The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group, believing there is no other way to be, and often fearing reprisals to self or others if they leave or even consider leaving the group.”

    Romans 14.23 He that doubteth is damned.

    Conclusion – a religion is just a cult without political power. Or that has been around for a while.

  15. a different tim
    November 14th, 2005 @ 5:19 pm

    Sorry, cult is just a religion without etc….

  16. Mort Coyle
    November 14th, 2005 @ 5:35 pm

    It’s interesting to see how many of you are claiming that there is essentially no difference between cults and established religions such as Christianity, Judaim & Islam (and even trying to use scriptures out of context in an attempt to paint Christianity as a cult, which is quite disingenuous).

    If it were the case that religions and cults are one and the same, why is there even a classification of cult? If there is no distinction, then TRA’s initial viewpoint about “The reason people fall for cults…” is, in fact, pointless.

    To use an example, a typical mainline American Christian church meets few, if any of the characteristics I provided that identify a cult. Whereas a true cult will typically display most or all of the characteristics.

  17. sternwallow
    November 14th, 2005 @ 7:25 pm

    So, Mort Coyle, from American Catholics to Shakers, where do we find this “Mainline American Christian Church”? There are no local offices of it in my town. As I have seen, Christians only agree that a man named Jesus or Emmanuel existed ages ago. They don’t agree on his divinity, on his lineage, on his message, on his marital status, how or if he died or how many other men named Jesus or Immanuel were alive at the time. Oh, maybe you were just trying to define the difference between a religion and a cult by inventing a new distinction “mainline”. No fair without defining mainline as part of your presentation.

    For new, we are left with the conclusion – a religion is just a cult without political power. Or that has been around for a while.

  18. benjamin
    November 14th, 2005 @ 7:41 pm

    So mort, maybe if you answer me this question, you’ll understand the difference between a religion and a cult:
    What’s the difference between a tribe and a nation?

  19. Daphne's mom
    November 14th, 2005 @ 9:04 pm

    Benjamin: I looked the two words up for you in the OED and found the following:

    A tribe is:

    1) A group of persons forming a community and claiming descent from a common ancestor
    2) A particular race of recognized ancestry; a family.
    3) One of the traditional three political divisions or patrician orders of ancient Rome in early times
    4) A division of some other nation or people.

    A nation is:
    1. A large aggregate of communities and individuals united by factors such as common descent, language, culture, history, or occupation of the same territory, so as to form a distinct people. Now also: such a people forming a political state; a political state.
    2. A group of people having a single ethnic, tribal, or religious affiliation, but without a separate or politically independent territory.

    3. the whole population of a country, freq. in contrast to a smaller or narrower body within it.

    Does this help?

    Mort gave an extremely good definition of cult; A Different Tim gave a so preposterous reading of scripture that it must be a joke. It must be. Otherwise, it would be less painful to watch him defend Intelligent Design and Creationism.

    sternwallow: Mainline is the common (as in every newspaper, magazine and tv show that has occasion to mention religion) word that designates the protestant churches which have historically been the churches of the protestant majority. Today that means, Methodists, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, etc.

    Where you and others get the idea that we don’t all agree on his divinity, his marital status, etc. defies anything I can figure out. The things we disagree on are a little harder than that for outsiders to understand. We all agree on the basics (google apostles creed to see what they are). There are differences of emphasis and some serious disagreements about things like the Eucharist. But that need not concern you.

    However, it is true that there are probably lots of people who don’t know anymore what differences really divide say, the Presbyterians and Methodists. It probably doesn’t matter any more.

  20. Daphne's mom
    November 14th, 2005 @ 9:04 pm

    Benjamin: I looked the two words up for you in the OED and found the following:

    A tribe is:

    1) A group of persons forming a community and claiming descent from a common ancestor
    2) A particular race of recognized ancestry; a family.
    3) One of the traditional three political divisions or patrician orders of ancient Rome in early times
    4) A division of some other nation or people.

    A nation is:
    1. A large aggregate of communities and individuals united by factors such as common descent, language, culture, history, or occupation of the same territory, so as to form a distinct people. Now also: such a people forming a political state; a political state.
    2. A group of people having a single ethnic, tribal, or religious affiliation, but without a separate or politically independent territory.

    3. the whole population of a country, freq. in contrast to a smaller or narrower body within it.

    Does this help?

    Mort gave an extremely good definition of cult; A Different Tim gave a so preposterous reading of scripture that it must be a joke. It must be. Otherwise, it would be less painful to watch him defend Intelligent Design and Creationism.

    sternwallow: Mainline is the common (as in every newspaper, magazine and tv show that has occasion to mention religion) word that designates the protestant churches which have historically been the churches of the protestant majority. Today that means, Methodists, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, etc.

    Where you and others get the idea that we don’t all agree on his divinity, his marital status, etc. defies anything I can figure out. The things we disagree on are a little harder than that for outsiders to understand. We all agree on the basics (google apostles creed to see what they are). There are differences of emphasis and some serious disagreements about things like the Eucharist. But that need not concern you.

    However, it is true that there are probably lots of people who don’t know anymore what differences really divide say, the Presbyterians and Methodists. It probably doesn’t matter any more.

  21. Daphne's mom
    November 14th, 2005 @ 9:04 pm

    Benjamin: I looked the two words up for you in the OED and found the following:

    A tribe is:

    1) A group of persons forming a community and claiming descent from a common ancestor
    2) A particular race of recognized ancestry; a family.
    3) One of the traditional three political divisions or patrician orders of ancient Rome in early times
    4) A division of some other nation or people.

    A nation is:
    1. A large aggregate of communities and individuals united by factors such as common descent, language, culture, history, or occupation of the same territory, so as to form a distinct people. Now also: such a people forming a political state; a political state.
    2. A group of people having a single ethnic, tribal, or religious affiliation, but without a separate or politically independent territory.

    3. the whole population of a country, freq. in contrast to a smaller or narrower body within it.

    Does this help?

    Mort gave an extremely good definition of cult; A Different Tim gave a so preposterous reading of scripture that it must be a joke. It must be. Otherwise, it would be less painful to watch him defend Intelligent Design and Creationism.

    sternwallow: Mainline is the common (as in every newspaper, magazine and tv show that has occasion to mention religion) word that designates the protestant churches which have historically been the churches of the protestant majority. Today that means, Methodists, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, etc.

    Where you and others get the idea that we don’t all agree on his divinity, his marital status, etc. defies anything I can figure out. The things we disagree on are a little harder than that for outsiders to understand. We all agree on the basics (google apostles creed to see what they are). There are differences of emphasis and some serious disagreements about things like the Eucharist. But that need not concern you.

    However, it is true that there are probably lots of people who don’t know anymore what differences really divide say, the Presbyterians and Methodists. It probably doesn’t matter any more.

  22. Daphne's mom
    November 14th, 2005 @ 9:04 pm

    Benjamin: I looked the two words up for you in the OED and found the following:

    A tribe is:

    1) A group of persons forming a community and claiming descent from a common ancestor
    2) A particular race of recognized ancestry; a family.
    3) One of the traditional three political divisions or patrician orders of ancient Rome in early times
    4) A division of some other nation or people.

    A nation is:
    1. A large aggregate of communities and individuals united by factors such as common descent, language, culture, history, or occupation of the same territory, so as to form a distinct people. Now also: such a people forming a political state; a political state.
    2. A group of people having a single ethnic, tribal, or religious affiliation, but without a separate or politically independent territory.

    3. the whole population of a country, freq. in contrast to a smaller or narrower body within it.

    Does this help?

    Mort gave an extremely good definition of cult; A Different Tim gave a so preposterous reading of scripture that it must be a joke. It must be. Otherwise, it would be less painful to watch him defend Intelligent Design and Creationism.

    sternwallow: Mainline is the common (as in every newspaper, magazine and tv show that has occasion to mention religion) word that designates the protestant churches which have historically been the churches of the protestant majority. Today that means, Methodists, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, etc.

    Where you and others get the idea that we don’t all agree on his divinity, his marital status, etc. defies anything I can figure out. The things we disagree on are a little harder than that for outsiders to understand. We all agree on the basics (google apostles creed to see what they are). There are differences of emphasis and some serious disagreements about things like the Eucharist. But that need not concern you.

    However, it is true that there are probably lots of people who don’t know anymore what differences really divide say, the Presbyterians and Methodists. It probably doesn’t matter any more.

  23. Mort Coyle
    November 14th, 2005 @ 9:29 pm

    sternwallow said: “…from American Catholics to Shakers, where do we find this “Mainline American Christian Church”?”

    “Mainline” is a common term used to denote established Protestant Christian denominations such as Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, etc. Sometimes “Mainline” denominations are differentiated from “Evangelical” denoms (such as Southern Baptist or Assembly of God); the former being considered more liberal leaning and the latter being more conservative leaning. Sometimes (and this was my intention), “mainline” is used inclusively of both.

    Mainline is not a distinction I invented, but I apologize for assuming you would be familiar with the term.

    Now that that’s been clarified, I’ll restate: A typical mainline American Christian church meets few, if any, of the characteristics I provided that identify a cult. Whereas a true cult will typically display most or all of the characteristics.

    benjamin said: “What’s the difference between a tribe and a nation?”

    I wouldn’t consider myself qualified to answer that question without first doing some research on the topic. Tell you what, why don’t you provide a list of characteristics, as I’ve done with cults, and then I’ll know.

    Webster’s Dictionary defines “cult”, in the context we’ve been using the word, as: “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents”. This was the sense in which TRA seemed to be using the word in his initial post.

    So are you all really in agreement with me that TRA’s assertion about cults is bogus? After all, if there is no difference between a cult and any other religion, then his statements make no sense.

  24. cubic rooms
    November 14th, 2005 @ 9:57 pm

    A cult is a religion that other religions can feel superior to.

  25. Mort Coyle
    November 14th, 2005 @ 10:22 pm

    Daphne’s mom brings up a good point. The various Christians that post on this board belong to different denominations, but we all agree on the essentials of what Christianity is. We may disagree on tangential points, but not the core. The Apostle’s Creed is a good guideline for what these essentials are.

    There’s an old saying among Christians: “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

    Cults deviate from the essentials and so fall outside of this rubric.

  26. SteveR
    November 14th, 2005 @ 10:25 pm

    Mort Coyle said: ” If it were the case that religions and cults are one and the same, why is there even a classification of cult?”

    Because religions with political power are able to hold on to that power by marginalizing the opposition.

  27. Daphne's mom
    November 14th, 2005 @ 10:37 pm

    #23-SteveR: Oh balderdash! That is a 7th grader’s definition.

    How do you envision such a thing happening? Maybe a group of crazed pastors descending on the editorial board of the OED or Merriam Webster and demanding that they make up a bogus definition of “cult” or else …?

    Which religions, by the way, have the political power to do anything? How is it exercised? Does the Pope have a red phone with which he tells GWB what to do? Maybe Jerry Falwell calls Condi Rice up and tells her what for? Possibly messages are passed from Cardinal Law to Dick Cheney by Valerie Plame? Do tell!

  28. Daphne's mom
    November 14th, 2005 @ 10:37 pm

    #23-SteveR: Oh balderdash! That is a 7th grader’s definition.

    How do you envision such a thing happening? Maybe a group of crazed pastors descending on the editorial board of the OED or Merriam Webster and demanding that they make up a bogus definition of “cult” or else …?

    Which religions, by the way, have the political power to do anything? How is it exercised? Does the Pope have a red phone with which he tells GWB what to do? Maybe Jerry Falwell calls Condi Rice up and tells her what for? Possibly messages are passed from Cardinal Law to Dick Cheney by Valerie Plame? Do tell!

  29. Daphne's mom
    November 14th, 2005 @ 10:37 pm

    #23-SteveR: Oh balderdash! That is a 7th grader’s definition.

    How do you envision such a thing happening? Maybe a group of crazed pastors descending on the editorial board of the OED or Merriam Webster and demanding that they make up a bogus definition of “cult” or else …?

    Which religions, by the way, have the political power to do anything? How is it exercised? Does the Pope have a red phone with which he tells GWB what to do? Maybe Jerry Falwell calls Condi Rice up and tells her what for? Possibly messages are passed from Cardinal Law to Dick Cheney by Valerie Plame? Do tell!

  30. Daphne's mom
    November 14th, 2005 @ 10:37 pm

    #23-SteveR: Oh balderdash! That is a 7th grader’s definition.

    How do you envision such a thing happening? Maybe a group of crazed pastors descending on the editorial board of the OED or Merriam Webster and demanding that they make up a bogus definition of “cult” or else …?

    Which religions, by the way, have the political power to do anything? How is it exercised? Does the Pope have a red phone with which he tells GWB what to do? Maybe Jerry Falwell calls Condi Rice up and tells her what for? Possibly messages are passed from Cardinal Law to Dick Cheney by Valerie Plame? Do tell!

  31. Mort Coyle
    November 14th, 2005 @ 10:39 pm

    Mort Coyle said: ” If it were the case that religions and cults are one and the same, why is there even a classification of cult?”

    SteveR said: Because religions with political power are able to hold on to that power by marginalizing the opposition.

    And yet the distinction does exist…

  32. Eva
    November 14th, 2005 @ 10:58 pm

    the difference between a religion and a cult is the amount of real estate they own….

    i can’t remember who the author if this quote is….but i love it….

  33. Mort Coyle
    November 15th, 2005 @ 1:03 am

    And yet many cults are quite wealthy and own much real estate…

  34. Mort Coyle
    November 15th, 2005 @ 1:17 am

    Back to the original point, it seems that those most likely to join what are commonly recognized as destructive cults are those who don’t already have a firm theological footing. People who come from a secular background and lack religious training are ill-equipped to discern cultic teachings and behaviors. Additionally, since they lack the support of a faith-community, they’re also more likely to be drawn into a destructive cult by it’s social aspects, which are often used as bait.

  35. cloudywithachanceofcheeseburgers
    November 15th, 2005 @ 1:47 am

    Here’s a helpful quote:

    Q: What’s the difference between a cult and a religion?
    A: About two hundred years.

    I think clever atheists have such a disdain for ALL religions that, for them, the difference between cults and religions are just shades of grey. For my part, I can see a very large difference in small, isolated, brain washing-type cults and come-and-leave-as-you-are denominations.

    It’s also a spectrum that varies with both time and place. Early Christianity, it could be argued, was closer to a cult than a religion. Mormonism in some parts of rural Utah may be considered a cult, while Mormonism in, say, Connecticut is not so culty. It just depends.

  36. Lily
    November 15th, 2005 @ 7:23 am

    Cloudy– There may be some truth to that. But I think it is a matter of the cult becoming more “normal”, e.g. the Mormons giving up polygamy (officially), in order to make it possible for Utah to be admitted to the union. I have to give this some more thought.

  37. Tomek
    November 15th, 2005 @ 10:40 am

    Webster’s Dictionary defines “cult”, in the context we’ve been using the word, as: “a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents”

    Apart from indocrination, what other way do we ‘know’ that our religion is not spurious while some newage religion is? Scientology is being accepted more and more as a religion. This is because its gained a lot of support and has existed for a while now. This suports the difference between religions and cults being 200 years.

  38. Tomek
    November 15th, 2005 @ 10:42 am

    By the way.. I once read some little research on prevalance of different religions and the way taht the researchers defined a religion as opposed to cult was a large nmber of followers (forget how many exactly) spread across several continents (forgot how many exactly).

    Im curious though, what would we call this religion of Christianity when it first started out as a minority? Religion? …dont think so…

  39. Lily
    November 15th, 2005 @ 10:51 am

    Tomek, it depends on whether or not the cult ever stops being regarded as unorthodox or spurious. Also, by whom?

    Scientology is no closer to acceptance as a religion than it ever was. In certain places (like Florida) where there has been a highly publicized death connected to their practices they are regarded with real fear and hatred. Unfortunately, Scientology has attracted some celebrity adherents which always muddies the waters.

    But even if it, or some other cult became accepted as a religion, I am not sure what that would have to do with the original post, in that the cult would either still exhibit the dangerous characteristics that Mort Coyle laid out, which makes it an ongoing problem for people whose kids and loved ones get involved, or it becomes a harmless diversion for some subset of people. It is hard to imagine any new “religion” gaining adherents on a scale that would make it politically powerful.

  40. DamnRight
    November 15th, 2005 @ 11:01 am

    Don’t evangelical Christians consider Catholicism a cult?

  41. Mort Coyle
    November 15th, 2005 @ 11:56 am

    cloudywithachanceofcheeseburgers, your post is the most honest and intelligent I’ve seen from an atheist in this discussion.

    There are, IMHO, two different categories for assessing whether a religion is a cult. One has to do with behavioral characteristics, as per the list I provided. The second has to do with doctine, which I haven’t really dealt with on this forum. Most recognized cults are aberrent in both categories. Scientology or JW’s or Moonies would be good examples.

    Mormonism, on the other hand, has become much less cult-like in behavior but is very spurious theologically (in the respect that they profess to be a Christian denomination – in fact the only true Christian denomination – but espouse core doctrines that are nothing like orthodox Christianity and, in fact, contradict Christianity).

    Regarding Catholicism, some Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians do indeed consider it a cult (the world’s largest, I suppose), but I think most Protestant Christians, while taking issue with certain Catholic doctrines and practices, do not go so far as to consider it a cult.

  42. Mookie
    November 15th, 2005 @ 1:32 pm

    I think ADT’s list was clear, concise, and without error. I did not look up all the quotes or anything, but they sound like religious/cultish drivel. All religions use brainwashing tactics. Little kids are brought to church and told marvelous stories that have no basis in fact. They grow up still believing these stories and indoctrinate their children the same way they were. If you theists cannot accept this reality, well, I guess you can’t since you are theists. You can give it a try, though. Just try to think for a moment: Am I just the product of religious conditioning and cult-like brainwashing? If you answer no, try asking yourself again, or come out of the closet and declare yourself an atheist.

  43. a different tim
    November 15th, 2005 @ 2:26 pm

    It was sort of a joke….sort of.

    I do think that basically, cults that get old and respectable become religions. If you look seriously at the early church, there’s quite a bit of what we might now call “cultish behaviour”.

    Sorry, DM…..

    PS most of the quotes were sourced from the fantastic Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, which is here. http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/

    You can search for violence, absurdity etc. You also get the koran and the book of Mormon for good measure.

  44. Mort Coyle
    November 15th, 2005 @ 2:55 pm

    Mookie said: “I think ADT’s list was clear, concise, and without error. I did not look up all the quotes or anything, but they sound like religious/cultish drivel.”

    Let me get this straight… You *think* the scripture references were without error, but you didn’t, like, *look them up* or anything, but they sound like what you want to hear, so they must be right. And then it turns out that what you considered to be “clear, concise and without error” was actually a joke. Yeesh! And you guys say Christians are gullible!

    I continue to be astounded by the intellectual laziness and disingenuity I encounter on this board!

  45. Mort Coyle
    November 15th, 2005 @ 4:00 pm

    Mookie also said: “Just try to think for a moment: Am I just the product of religious conditioning and cult-like brainwashing?”

    Well, I had absolutely no religious training or church attendance as a child. My father was an avowed atheist and my mother an agnostic.

    I became a Christian in my 20’s, completely outside of the church or any church influence. The primary factors in my conversion were, A) Reading the Bible for myself, and, B) Having an actual encounter with Jesus Christ.

    I continue to be wary of authority, including religious authority, and I place a high value on critical thinking. Fortunately, I find these same characteristics in Jesus. I also find them in Paul and other New Testament writers.

    Soooo, if I was brainwashed, it must’ve been something in the water. Perhaps you could give a credible definition of what is (and isn’t) brainwashing…

  46. benjamin
    November 15th, 2005 @ 4:18 pm

    Mort, you should be delighted, not offended. People were giving you the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that you were merely brainwashed instead of an authentic psychotic who has had “an actual encounter with Jesus Christ.”

  47. benjamin
    November 15th, 2005 @ 4:26 pm

    “Cult” is a word often used to describe a religion by people who want their audience to understand that they have a negative attitude toward that religion, and feel superior to its members
    “Tribe” is a word often used to describe a nation by people who want their audience to understand that they have a negative attitude toward that nation, and feel superiour to its members

  48. Mort Coyle
    November 15th, 2005 @ 4:38 pm

    benjamin, are those the only two categories you can permit, brainwashed or psychotic? Seems an awfully narrow way to categorize people… Perhaps this is the defense mechanism you’ve developed to insulate yourself from considering the possibility of God’s existence?

    It’s true that “cult” conveys a negative attitude toward a religion, but I think if you do a little research you’ll discover that there are actual widely accepted guidelines for what constitutes a cult (some of which I provided earlier).

  49. benjamin
    November 15th, 2005 @ 5:45 pm

    Mort, I’m saying you may have freed yourself from the frying pan of the brainwashing description of which you complained, but you opened yourself up for the fire of the phsychotic description.
    I consider and reconsider the possibility of God’s existence quite often, but for the past 11 or 12 years, I keep coming up with the same thing.

    To me, your guidelines apply quite positively to many things you would consdier religions. I find especially comedic the ones that deal with quantity or extent, almost like the authors knew they applied to many/all religions, and threw that in there not to piss people off.\
    excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment
    Mind-altering practices are used in excess
    The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel
    Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

  50. Mort Coyle
    November 15th, 2005 @ 6:14 pm

    benjamin said: “I consider and reconsider the possibility of God’s existence quite often…”

    I’m glad to hear that.

    “To me, your guidelines apply quite positively to many things you would consdier religions.”

    For example…

  51. Tomek
    November 15th, 2005 @ 6:56 pm

    You know I’ve had a thought. Today’s catholics are obviously not required to give up much in orer to be part of the religion. This I think is partly the result of it’s age. In the early days, it was a lot more demanding and you needed to strictly hold certain beliefs and certain celebrations in order to really call yourself christian. Over time however, people done away with the un-popular aspects of it (though not deleteing them from the bible). Over time, hundreds of years, I doubt that scientology, if it still exists would be the same, as leaders change rules will change. That’s what happened with one CHristian “cult” here in Australia and other countries which is all about having sex and loving Jesus. They seem to call it a cult coz they don’t like what they do, are jealous of it. Anyway, in the past they used to have sex with reallly young children but now the leaders have put an end to that apprently.

    SO yeah, there you have btw, A christian cult.

  52. Lily
    November 15th, 2005 @ 8:55 pm

    Tomek: It isn’t clear to me what you mean. The Catholic Church still teaches what it has always taught. Those things never change. People have not “done away” with unpopular parts. It may be that in our sceptical, post-modern age, it is easier for the shallow to drift away. However, the Bible is very clear that the tares have to be allowed to grow with the wheat but that at the harvest the good crop will be brought in and the weeds tossed away and burned up.

    The cult that you refer to, if it is a real cult, is a cult by virtue of ignoring the bits of Christianity that it doesn’t like (chastity, apparently) and, maybe, rewriting doctrine to suit itself.

    Frankly, I don’t know if 35 people ( i.e. a small number) doing their own thing amounts to a cult. They could be just plain old heretics or plain old clowns annoying the religious by calling themselves Christians. Who can say? I can call myself a metaphysical pot of clotted cream but that don’t make it so (or make sense!) To go back to the question posed to the God squad, no I don’t think cults make Christians look bad. The world is full of people doing, saying and writing crazy things.

  53. Mort Coyle
    November 15th, 2005 @ 9:27 pm

    Tomek, that definitely sounds like a Christian cult (in other words, a group that claims to be Christian but in actuality doesn’t follow Christian doctrine).

    Your observation about the early days of the church carries some truth: In the first few hundred years of the Christian church it was not easy to be a believer. In fact, to profess faith in Jesus Christ could incur ostracization, financial loss and/or a sentence of torture and death. To follow Jesus might well cost you everything. In spite of that, Christianity spread rapidly thoughout the Roman Empire.

    Eventually, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and, after the demise of the Empire, the official religion of Europe. This is sometimes called the era of Christendom. For over 1,000 years people were considered Christian purely on the basis of where they were born, with little or no bearing on their personal beliefs and convictions. If you lived under a Christian king, you were a Christian. This is in many ways the way it is in Islamic nations today; you are Muslim by default due to where you were born. Your religion ends up being a cultural phenomenon rather than a conviction you independently arrived at.

    The Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment did much to bring religious faith back to being a matter of personal conviction, not national identity.

    Still today there are many vestiges of the old Christendom system. Many people refer to themselves as “Christian” but it’s mostly a cultural identification, not a personal belief. This is why I prefer to call myself a “follower of Jesus”, since that implies *doing* and not just *being*.

    A friend of mine from East Africa once explained to me that in that part of the world you are either Muslim or Christian. In other words, if you aren’t Muslim, you must be Christian. America and Europe are seen as Christian nations so anyone and anything from the West (for example, MTV or Playboy magazine) is Christian. They don’t get the concept of faith by free will. The result is that they mistakenly assume Christianity to be utterly corrupt based on what they see of Western culture (which they equate to Christianity).

    I think, to a lesser extent, non-Christians elsewhere make a similar mistake (I know I used to) by assuming that because someone or something is associated with Christianity it is, in fact, truly Christian and representative of Christianity. The Bible actually contains a lot of language about phony believers (wolves in sheep’s clothing, etc.) and the damage they can cause.

    Anyway, my point in all that is to say that it’s very easy to call oneself a Christian, but it’s not so easy to actually be a follower of Jesus.

  54. Mort Coyle
    November 15th, 2005 @ 9:28 pm

    Tomek, that definitely sounds like a Christian cult (in other words, a group that claims to be Christian but in actuality doesn’t follow Christian doctrine).

    Your observation about the early days of the church carries some truth: In the first few hundred years of the Christian church it was not easy to be a believer. In fact, to profess faith in Jesus Christ could incur ostracization, financial loss and/or a sentence of torture and death. To follow Jesus might well cost you everything. In spite of that, Christianity spread rapidly thoughout the Roman Empire.

    Eventually, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and, after the demise of the Empire, the official religion of Europe. This is sometimes called the era of Christendom. For over 1,000 years people were considered Christian purely on the basis of where they were born, with little or no bearing on their personal beliefs and convictions. If you lived under a Christian king, you were a Christian. This is in many ways the way it is in Islamic nations today; you are Muslim by default due to where you were born. Your religion ends up being a cultural phenomenon rather than a conviction you independently arrived at.

    The Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment did much to bring religious faith back to being a matter of personal conviction, not national identity.

    Still today there are many vestiges of the old Christendom system. Many people refer to themselves as “Christian” but it’s mostly a cultural identification, not a personal belief. This is why I prefer to call myself a “follower of Jesus”, since that implies *doing* and not just *being*.

    A friend of mine from East Africa once explained to me that in that part of the world you are either Muslim or Christian. In other words, if you aren’t Muslim, you must be Christian. America and Europe are seen as Christian nations so anyone and anything from the West (for example, MTV or Playboy magazine) is Christian. They don’t get the concept of faith by free will. The result is that they mistakenly assume Christianity to be utterly corrupt based on what they see of Western culture (which they equate to Christianity).

    I think, to a lesser extent, non-Christians elsewhere make a similar mistake (I know I used to) by assuming that because someone or something is associated with Christianity it is, in fact, truly Christian and representative of Christianity. The Bible actually contains a lot of language about phony believers (wolves in sheep’s clothing, etc.) and the damage they can cause.

    Anyway, my point in all that is to say that it’s very easy to call oneself a Christian, but it’s not so easy to actually be a follower of Jesus.

  55. Mort Coyle
    November 15th, 2005 @ 9:31 pm

    Sorry for the double post!

  56. Tomek
    November 16th, 2005 @ 12:12 am

    But if that is cult because it doesn’t follow Christian teachings then all Chrisitian religions are cults. I don’t know of any religions still openly arguing in favor of executing homosexuals or people with animal fetishes. I don’t see very disobedient sons being stoned to death by their church communities. These and other interesting Christian teachings are found in the bible. WIthin the 10 commandments themselves we see god saying he punishes people to the 4th generation which is totally unjust and no christian would argue against the injustice of this divine judgement and punishment.

  57. Mort Coyle
    November 16th, 2005 @ 1:04 am

    Tomek, the examples you cited are all part of the Levitical law given by Moses to the nation of Israel in about 1500 B.C. These teachings were not incorporated into the Christian church. In fact, Christianity teaches that Jesus made the Levitical law obsolete. The New Testament book of Colossians puts it this way: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations that was against us and that stood oposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” The picture here is that the Levitical law died on the cross with Jesus and when Jesus was resurrected He gave a new law, which is a law of mercy, grace and love.

    Very early on, the Christian church was coming to grips with this and had to make a decision regarding how much of Jewish law and customs, if any, should apply to non-Jews who were beginning to join the church. In Acts Chapter 15 we have recorded a Council that took place to decide the matter. Here is what they concluded:

    “…we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”

    These might seem odd choices but they primarily had to do with asking the Gentiles in behave in such a way as to not offend Jewish sensibilities. Gentiles and Jews were beginning to mix in an unprecedented way within the Christian church and there was legitimate concern about cultural clashes. It’s akin to if I were to invite some vegans to dinner, I wouldn’t serve them steak. Likewise, I wouldn’t offer pork rinds and beer to my Muslim friends.

    I guess you *could* say that, from the standpoint of 1st Century Judaism, Christianity was a Jewish cult, since it obviously broke from Jewish teaching, particularly in the application of the Levitical law. On the other hand, cults are typically destructive and constricting whereas Christianity offered life and light and freedom, both to Jews and Gentiles.

  58. Tomek
    November 16th, 2005 @ 5:18 am

    Interesting stuff Mort. You may be aware that jesus does at times say taht the old law still stands and won’t be changed until all is done..which can’t really mean till after he dies.. but taht is another story. I would expect you to be consistent though and thus nullify the whole of those old laws..even the good ones as we all know that killing is not always wrong and neither is stealing but thats another tangent haha

    However, the new testament features some anti-homosexual content as well (Paul chapter i think) and Jesus’ attitude to non-believers is hardly noble or fitting for agood person. It is because of these aspects that Bertrand RUssel considers Gandhi, Buddha and Socrates to be more good than Jesus as they didn’t tend to condemm anyone. My point in all this is that there is hostility towards non-chrisitians which we (thankfully) dont see being replicated by today’s mainstream chrisitna population. This however is against the teachings of the bible hence it may fit into the cult definition of cult taht you put forward.

  59. benjamin
    November 16th, 2005 @ 9:49 am

    So Mort, if Christianity is a religion because of its consistency, and Judaism lacks this consistency, are you saying Jews are members of a cult? BTW, it’s nice that you finally realize that the term cult could be applied to your religion, even if you only see it appropriate in the early stages. (so far)

  60. Lily
    November 16th, 2005 @ 10:57 am

    Benjamin:
    The word cult is not alway negative. In fact, it could once have been used in place of the word religion, I suppose. Unfortunately, it has become so loaded a term today that it has lost its usefulness in a more neutral or positive sense.

    As always, the OED is invaluable here. Here are its definitions:

    1. Worship; reverential homage rendered to a divine being or beings. Obs. (exc. as in sense 2).

    2. a. A particular form or system of religious worship; esp. in reference to its external rites and ceremonies. b. Now freq. used attrib. by writers on cultic ritual and the archæology of primitive cults.

    3. Devotion or homage to a particular person or thing, now esp. as paid by a body of professed adherents or admirers.

    Most interesting is its draft definition #4. DRAFT ADDITIONS SEPTEMBER 2004

    Designating cultural phenomena with a strong, often enduring appeal to a relatively small audience; (also) designating this appeal or audience, or any resultant success; fringe, non-mainstream (my emphasis). Hence: possessing a fashionable or exclusive cachet; spec. (of artistic figures or works) having a reputation or influence disproportionate to their limited public exposure or commercial success. Freq. in cult figure, status.

    So, while I know you are hoping to succeed in dissing religion, altogether, the word just won’t bear the weight you are trying to assign to it. What we are really discussing are heretical sects (if they claim to be offshoots of mainstream Christianity) or else groups that have sprung up to “worship” something else, like outer space denizens, etc.

  61. Mort Coyle
    November 16th, 2005 @ 11:21 am

    Tomek: “You may be aware that jesus does at times say taht the old law still stands and won’t be changed until all is done..which can’t really mean till after he dies..”

    This is, essentially, what he’s saying. This is why just before dying on the cross Jesus exclaimed “It is finished!”, which in the original language actually means “Paid in full!” (archeaologists have found business receipts that use the same word, tetelestai, to indicate full payment received).

    Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law. Without going into a lot of Greek mumbo-jumbo, what he’s saying is that the law comes to full fruition in him. In the same way a seed is fulfilled by the flower that comes from it. Once the flower comes forth, the seed disappears. The flower fulfilled the seed’s purpose, but the flower is not the seed. It is a new thing.

    The old Levitical law really had three parts: The Ceremonial laws, which dealt with how the ancient Israelites conducted their worship; The Civil law for the theocratic nation of Israel; and the Moral law. The moral law is still useful in that it gives an understanding of what God’s values are. The 10 Commandments are the best example of this. You may have noticed that the first 4 commandments deal with one’s relationship to God, while the last 6 commandments deal with one’s relationship to other people. The 10 commandments are not about following a set of legal observances by which one can earn God’s favor. Instead they are a set of values on how to maintain healthy relationships, with both God and people.

    “…the new testament features some anti-homosexual content as well”

    Well, if by “anti-homosexual” you mean calling homosexuality sin, then yes, it does. The New Testament also says that not taking care of the poor is a sin, and that making class distinctions is a sin, and that lust is a sin, etc., etc. What is sin? Ultimately, it’s that which interferes with our relationship with our Creator.

    “Jesus’ attitude to non-believers is hardly noble or fitting for agood person.”

    “My point in all this is that there is hostility towards non-chrisitians which we (thankfully) dont see being replicated by today’s mainstream chrisitna population. This however is against the teachings of the bible”

    I’d like to hear more about these assertions. What I see of Jesus is an unprecedented level of inclusiveness and kindness. Jesus went out of his way to engage the marginalized people in his culture (women, lepers, etc.). Perhaps you’re misinterpreting the story of Jesus’ exchange with the Canaanite woman in Matt. 15? Other than that, I have no idea how you would come to this conclusion.

    benjamin said: “So Mort, if Christianity is a religion because of its consistency, and Judaism lacks this consistency…”

    Where on earth did you come up with that premise?

    “BTW, it’s nice that you finally realize that the term cult could be applied to your religion, even if you only see it appropriate in the early stages.”

    Ummm, finally realized? My point all along has been that cults are identified primarily by behavioral characteristics such as those I provided earlier. Secondarily, cults typically deviate from the teachings of the religion they came out of.
    Does this mean that any group that came out of a larger group and made doctrinal changes is a cult? I guess it would depend on how narrow you want to get in your definition. You seem to be fixated on trying to attach the label of “cult” to Christianity because it came out of Judaism, yet you seem to be ignoring the primary characteristic used to identify a cult. My point was, fine, if it makes you happy to call Christianity a cult because of it’s Jewish roots, then go ahead. That’s a very simplistic approach, but if it works for you, go for it.

  62. benjamin
    November 16th, 2005 @ 12:22 pm

    benjamin said: “So Mort, if Christianity is a religion because of its consistency, and Judaism lacks this consistency…”

    Mort replied: “Where on earth did you come up with that premise?”

    Maybe you are psychotic… you can’t seem to remember conversations you’ve had quite recently.


    Tomek said:”But if that is cult because it doesn’t follow Christian teachings then all Chrisitian religions are cults. I don’t know of any religions still openly arguing in favor of executing homosexuals or people with animal fetishes. I don’t see very disobedient sons being stoned to death by their church communities”

    Mort Replied:
    “It isn’t clear to me what you mean. The Catholic Church still teaches what it has always taught. Those things never change. People have not “done away” with unpopular parts.”

    Mort previously replied:
    “Tomek, the examples you cited are all part of the Levitical law given by Moses to the nation of Israel in about 1500 B.C. These teachings were not incorporated into the Christian church.”

    So those teachings supposedly weren’t part of the christian religion (debatable!) but they must have remained part of Judaism, and by Mort’s own reasoning, to stray from the teachings of your religion makes you a cult.

  63. Mort Coyle
    November 16th, 2005 @ 1:44 pm

    benjamin, you’re confusing yourself again. The quote you attributed to me about the Catholic Church was not me, it was Lily (post #46). I did not contradict myself. As a result, your conclusion is meaningless.

    Again, where did you come up with that bizarre interpretation that “…Christianity is a religion because of its consistency, and Judaism lacks this consistency…”? Please show me where I said that.

    Perhaps it’s time for you to pause, take a few deep breaths, and re-read this discussion from the beginning. The usage of the word “cult”, from the beginning of this discussion has pertained to dangerous, fringe cults. That’s clearly what TRA was referring to in his post which spawned this discussion.

    If it makes you happy to jump up and down and point and call Christianity a cult, go ahead, but I’m not sure what that really has to do with the discussion at hand.

  64. Joe
    November 16th, 2005 @ 3:13 pm

    The only difference between cult and religion is time. I claim to be the son of god (in the present)=cult. However, if I claim to be the son of god and gain a few followers, then the story lasts 2000 years……………..we have ourselves a religion.

  65. benjamin
    November 16th, 2005 @ 3:33 pm

    You’re right mort, I did confuse something Lily said thinking it came from you.

  66. Mort Coyle
    November 16th, 2005 @ 4:04 pm

    So Joe, you’re completely disregarding the characteristics that define a cult and only focusing on time? Be careful, such naivete could make you susceptible!

  67. Tomek
    November 16th, 2005 @ 10:42 pm

    I hate having to go up and find teh actual parts where jesus condemms non-believers.. Jesus ,on many occasions talks about how people who deny or don’t receive his teachings or his father (God) will be considered either against, him, non-forgivable and be cast into everlasting fire, gnashing of teeth and all that. (http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/int/nt.html). Either way you take it, hell is always an unjust punishment for any crime but that is anotehr story..whcih still kind of gets..pushed under teh rug with today’s christianity.

    Though he may tell us to be kind to everyone, saying specific things like the ones above really creates an exception to his rule as he wouldnt’ say it if he didnt mean it. Nowadays however, there is this thing called “Chrisitna tolernace” for other religions which has no basis in the teachings of Jesus as he often condemmed people who believed in soemthing else or didnt believe at all. Additionally, homosexuality cannot be sin as it is proven to be inborn and not something people just choose to take up one day so making a sin out of seomthing which could only really be god’s fault is worrying.

  68. Lily
    November 16th, 2005 @ 11:16 pm

    Tomek:
    You have mixed a lot of things together that need to be teased apart for clarity’s sake. Just to take the last piece first: even if homosexuality is inborn, it changes nothing. As an unmarried heterosexual, I have no options. It is either chastity or marriage. Now, of course, that option isn’t open to homosexuals but in reallity it isn’t going to happen to me either. I will deal with it.

    I will say this though about claiming that it is inborn– if it is, and somebody really does discover a gay gene, homosexuals are going to be as rare as Down Syndrome babies within a couple of years. They will be aborted out of existence. Thankfully, I don’t believe that anyone believes that it is inborn. So at least a few babies are safe.

    I don’t have time tonight to deal with the rest. Instead of going to find the “parts” that you think prove your point, why don’t you read one gospel from beginning to end and see if you can’t resolve some of the issues you have raised? I swear, you will not break out in warts. if you pick up a Bible, nor will lightening strike you. It is completely safe.

    However, hell is something that people choose. Please keep that in mind. The Bible is very clear that the way to avoid it is open to all.

  69. Tomek
    November 17th, 2005 @ 12:27 am

    Homsexuality isn’t about genes. It is thought be due to developmental changes after conception relating to levels of hormones. Just to fill you in. Hence you can’t abort it out of existence and even if you could, it still doesn’t resolve teh dilemma of punishing people for seomthing which you created. (in gods view)

    As for hell beinga choise, I don’t think belief is a choice. I can’t choose to believe as it all seems like fairytale with a lot of contradictions and gross immoral aspects. Even so, disbelief or even hate towards this god doesn’t justify hell as a punishment.

  70. Mort Coyle
    November 17th, 2005 @ 1:37 am

    Tomek, you seem like a fair and thoughtful person, so I think you would agree that when quoting someone context is extremely important.

    Jesus did say some very harsh things, such as those you mentioned above. The context though is that in almost all cases he was speaking to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a sect of Judaism who were intent on preserving and enforcing a very strict interpretation of the Levitical law. The Pharisees claimed to be Israel’s guides and they burdened the common people with rules governing all facets of life to the most minute detail. The Pharisees threatened the people with judgement and hell if they didn’t toe the line.

    The word “Pharisee” actually means “seperated one” which is gives a good idea of their exclusionary nature.

    Jesus was infuriated by the power plays of the Pharisees. He called them “blind guides” and “sons of hell” and “hypocrites”. Probably his strongest diatribe against them is recorded in Matthew 23, where Jesus repeatedly pronounces the following condemnation: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

    What angered Jesus so much about the Pharisees was that they set themselves up as the religious authorities but they actually made it harder for people to come to God by placing insurmountable obstacles in their way.

    BTW, it’s worth pointing out that after the resurrection, many Pharisees changed their ways and became Christians, including one named Paul (who wrote much of the New Testament).

    I hope this provides some context. Without having the specific scriptures you’re concerned about I could only answer in these general terms. The bottom line is that Jesus didn’t condemn unbelievers but he did come down hard on the Pharisees.

    If possible, I’d like to address the issue of homosexuality in a separate post.

    Lastly though, coming back slightly to the issue of cults, one of the key indicators of pseudo-Christian cults is that they insist that their members do not read the Bible for themselves. Cult members are told that they can only understand the Bible if they follow the interpretations given by the cult. With that in mind, I would encourage you to not rely so much on the Skeptics Annotated Bible, which gives extremely distorted interpretations. Why not pick up a New Testament and read it for yourself?

    Here’s one online: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=47&chapter=1&version=31

  71. Tomek
    November 17th, 2005 @ 11:54 am

    I actually tried reading the NT during the last days of respect for the religion but coming across things like “If you are not with me you are against me” and those passages about needing to hate everyone, including yourself while loving jesus most of all in order to worthy of him really spoiled things. I was trying to find some nice quotes and good morals but was dissapointed by these bad suggestions.

    Morte, with your context explanations, its all well and all but it doesnt cover everything. Some passages are clearly about denying his father or saying in your heart taht there is no god for example and the consequences of this. Hell still however, is not a just punishment for anyone, even Hitler or Stalin. Denying Jesus or his father is certanly nothing that shud require an eternal punishment. Though I’d be suprised if mainstream christianity actually still condemmed ppl of other or no religions or homosexuals.

    Nevertheless, I don’t one needs to go into these bad aspects of the religion to find that mainstream chrisitanity does not follow Jesus’ teachings. If it did, then I don’t see how any well-off person could walk into a church without shame as Jesus did teach charity…

    Tomek

  72. Joe
    November 17th, 2005 @ 4:51 pm

    Take each of those defining features of a cult and they each apply to jesus and the apostles. I’m not going through each one, but:

    – you have 12 guys seperated from their families
    – 12 guys who gave up their careers and worldly possessions
    – 12 guys who viewed another dude as the son of god………..which I would assume leads to an unhealthy tendency to do what ever you are told
    – viewed themselves as gods chosen (twice over since they were jews and followed the ‘son of god’)

    other then sex and weapons, what’s the difference between david koresh(sp?) and jesus

    I stand by my earlier statement……….the only difference between a cult and a religion is time. You don’t think the Romans viewed christians as a crazy cult?

  73. MBains
    November 17th, 2005 @ 6:12 pm

    benjamin said: “I consider and reconsider the possibility of God’s existence quite often…”

    Mort Coyle said: I’m glad to hear that.

    You may not want to focus for too long on that damned Spot. The concept of God will drive you crazy if you really convince yourself to believe in it once you’ve questioned Its probability, which is about the same as there being absolutely no other sentient life in the universe. There is just no way to tell what It might want.

    Hypothesize people! Give one Something to test and then theororize ’bout concerning how It works.

  74. Mort Coyle
    November 17th, 2005 @ 9:00 pm

    Joe said: “Take each of those defining features of a cult and they each apply to jesus and the apostles. I’m not going through each one…”

    I wish you would.

    “- you have 12 guys seperated from their families”

    Not sure where you got that from. Families were very involved in the gospel story. There is every indication that the “12 guys” as well as others who came later, stayed in close contact with their families and there were many family ties within the community of disciples that followed Jesus.

    For example:

    Jesus and the guys spend time at the home of Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum. In one instance, Pete’s mother-in-law gets sick and Jesus heals her.

    According to Paul, Peter’s wife travelled with him (Paul, on the other hand was a bachelor – many historians think he was probably a widower). – 1 Cor. 9:5

    Much of the ministry of Jesus recorded in the Gospels occured in the area around Capernaum, where most of the twelve Apostles lived. Thus, they were in their own neighborhood during this time.

    The mother of James and John (two of the twelve Apostles) is recorded in Matthew 20 talking to Jesus.

    Jesus’ mother and brothers visited him regularly, although initially his brothers were not disciples. After Jesus’ resurrection, his four brothers became disciples and two books in the New Testament (Jude and James) were authored by brothers of Jesus.

    The two disciples who met the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) were most likely husband and wife (Cleopas & Mary).

    Paul worked and travelled with Aquila and Priscilla, who were husband and wife.

    … These are just off the top of my head… Keep in mind that in those days extended families shared the same home, so it’s not like Peter sold his condo or something.

    “- 12 guys who gave up their careers and worldly possessions”

    They did leave their careers and eventually became church leaders and missionaries. Acts chapter 2 records how the 3,000 or so members of the early Jerusalem church would share their possessions with one-another. “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Notice that they didn’t give their possessions or money to a leader (as you would expect in a cult), but to whoever was in need.

    In Acts 5 there is a story of a husband and wife named Ananias and Sapphira who sell some land and give part of the proceeds to the church but claim to be giving all of the proceeds (thus lying in order to appear more generous than they were). They are found out and the complaint against them isn’t that they didn’t give all their money, (Peter says to them, “Didn’t it [the land] belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”) but that they lied.

    One other point about this… Jesus had predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and given his follower instructions on how to avoid being caught up in it. In 70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. The Christians left town shortly before it occurred. This means that the real estate which they had sold in order to get money for the needy ended up a few years later (after 70 A.D.) being worthless.

    “- 12 guys who viewed another dude as the son of god………..which I would assume leads to an unhealthy tendency to do what ever you are told”

    They did indeed view Jesus as the son of God. But what did Jesus do and teach? Love your enemies. Take care of the poor. Reach out to the marginalized and oppressed. Be peacemakers. Lead by being a servant, not a tyrant. Sacrifice yourself for the sake of others. Etc., etc.

    “other then sex and weapons, what’s the difference between david koresh(sp?) and jesus”

    Are you serious about this question? If so, I can enumerate for you, but I’m guessing you were just being hyperbolic.

    “You don’t think the Romans viewed christians as a crazy cult?”

    The Romans viewed Judaism, which was much older than their own religion, as a crazy cult. They initially just considered Christianity to be a sect within Judaism.

    Back to the beginning of this post, I think if you honestly and fairly looked at what scripture and history says about Jesus and the Apostles, you’ll find little that corresponds to those characteristics of a cult that I listed earlier.

  75. Mort Coyle
    November 17th, 2005 @ 10:27 pm

    Tomek said: “Morte, with your context explanations, its all well and all but it doesnt cover everything.”

    Hmmm… Morte, Latin for death, I like that. Of course when I visit South America it’s “El Muerto”.

    Anyway, no it doesn’t cover everything, which is why in my previous post I wrote “Without having the specific scriptures you’re concerned about I could only answer in these general terms.”

    I would be happy to look at specific scriptures. As I mentioned before, context is vitally important (who is Jesus talking to, for example).

    Another thing that plays a key role in what you see when reading scripture is what presuppositions you bring to the text. If you assume God to be mean and angry and vengeful, then it’s easy to misread scriptures in a negative way to fit that presupposition. I know Jesus as the kindest person I’ve ever met, so I view scripture in a completely different light.

    This brings us to hell (so to speak). It’s interesting that most of the references to hell in the Bible occur when Jesus is confronting the Pharisees. These are the same Pharisees who bullied people with threats of hell if they didn’t keep all of their rules and rituals. Jesus turned the tables on them.

    When you see Jesus referring to “Hell”, the actual word he used was “gehenna”. Gehenna was the name of a deep valley next to Jerusalem that served as the garbage dump for the city. It was also a place where ancient Canaanites had performed human sacrifice (actually child sacrifice). Gehenna was considered a very dark and nasty place, filled with filth, maggots, carcasses, etc. Fires burned there continuously to consume the debris.

    On one level then, Jesus was warning the Pharisees that they were in danger of being “thrown out” by God like garbage because of their hypocrisy and thirst for power. On another level many of them did quite literally end up in the valley of Gehenna during and after the seige of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., when it’s estimated over a million Jews died.

    Is there a literal lake-of-fire eternal hell? My studies have led me to conclude that there probably isn’t. The ancient Hebrews used very hyperbolic and picturesque language to convey ideas. Is there some form of eternal separation from
    God? Perhaps. C.S. Lewis once wrote that “The gates of hell are locked from the inside.”, meaning that God would not send people away but that people might choose to be apart from God. Afterall, if someone has spent a lifetime turning towards darkness, then spending eternity in the light of God’s presence might for them be hell.

    My own belief is that God’s love, as displayed through Jesus’ sacrifice, will overcome everything (including you!) and eventually everyone will be reunited with God; not by force but by their own choice. Obviously, not all Christians agree with this viewpoint.

    Much more could be said about this, but I’m trying to be brief.

    “… I don’t one needs to go into these bad aspects of the religion to find that mainstream chrisitanity does not follow Jesus’ teachings.”

    “mainstream christianity” is an abstract concept. The fact is that from the very beginning Christians have been known for their charity and self-sacrifice. Even today, the overwhelming majority of charitable organizations are Christian.

    Religious observers (those who attend weekly services), while making up only 38 percent of all Americans, donate two-thirds of all charitable dollars in the United States. On average they donate 3.4 percent of their income annually, while nonreligious people give 1.1 percent to 1.4 percent.
    (Source: http://bethel.jesuswork.org/OrphanageResources/html/charitystatistics.html)

    Christians were at the forefront of the abolition of slavery movement, the civil rights movement, the debt relief for Africa movement, etc., etc.

    I think American Christians can and should do more (starting with myself!) but the world would be a much more desperate place without the contributions of believers.

    If there are other areas in which you believe Christians don’t follow Jesus’ teaching, I’d be interested in hearing…

  76. Mort Coyle
    November 18th, 2005 @ 10:43 am

    Tomek said: “Morte, with your context explanations, its all well and all but it doesnt cover everything.”

    Hmmm… Morte, Latin for death, I like that. Of course when I visit South America it’s “El Muerto”.

    Anyway, no it doesn’t cover everything, which is why in my previous post I wrote “Without having the specific scriptures you’re concerned about I could only answer in these general terms.”

    I would be happy to look at specific scriptures. As I mentioned before, context is vitally important (who is Jesus talking to, for example).

    Another thing that plays a key role in what you see when reading scripture is what presuppositions you bring to the text. If you assume God to be mean and angry and vengeful, then it’s easy to misread scriptures in a negative way to fit that presupposition. I know Jesus as the kindest person I’ve ever met, so I view scripture in a completely different light.

    This brings us to hell (so to speak). It’s interesting that most of the references to hell in the Bible occur when Jesus is confronting the Pharisees. These are the same Pharisees who bullied people with threats of hell if they didn’t keep all of their rules and rituals. Jesus turned the tables on them.

    When you see Jesus referring to “Hell”, the actual word he used was “gehenna”. Gehenna was the name of a deep valley next to Jerusalem that served as the garbage dump for the city. It was also a place where ancient Canaanites had performed human sacrifice (actually child sacrifice). Gehenna was considered a very dark and nasty place, filled with filth, maggots, carcasses, etc. Fires burned there continuously to consume the debris.

    On one level then, Jesus was warning the Pharisees that they were in danger of being “thrown out” by God like garbage because of their hypocrisy and thirst for power. On another level many of them did quite literally end up in the valley of Gehenna during and after the seige of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., when it’s estimated over a million Jews died.

    To be continued…

  77. Mort Coyle
    November 18th, 2005 @ 10:44 am

    Continued…

    Is there a literal lake-of-fire eternal hell? My studies have led me to conclude that there probably isn’t. The ancient Hebrews used very hyperbolic and picturesque language to convey ideas. Is there some form of eternal separation from
    God? Perhaps. C.S. Lewis once wrote that “The gates of hell are locked from the inside.”, meaning that God would not send people away but that people might choose to be apart from God. Afterall, if someone has spent a lifetime turning towards darkness, then spending eternity in the light of God’s presence might for them be hell.

    My own belief is that God’s love, as displayed through Jesus’ sacrifice, will overcome everything (including you!) and eventually everyone will be reunited with God; not by force but by their own choice. Obviously, not all Christians agree with this viewpoint.

    Much more could be said about this, but I’m trying to be brief.

    “… I don’t one needs to go into these bad aspects of the religion to find that mainstream chrisitanity does not follow Jesus’ teachings.”

    “mainstream christianity” is an abstract concept. The fact is that from the very beginning Christians have been known for their charity and self-sacrifice. Even today, the overwhelming majority of charitable organizations are Christian.

    Religious observers (those who attend weekly services), while making up only 38 percent of all Americans, donate two-thirds of all charitable dollars in the United States. On average they donate 3.4 percent of their income annually, while nonreligious people give 1.1 percent to 1.4 percent.
    (Source: http://bethel.jesuswork.org/OrphanageResources/html/charitystatistics.html)

    Christians were at the forefront of the abolition of slavery movement, the civil rights movement, the debt relief for Africa movement, etc., etc.

    I think American Christians can and should do more (starting with myself!) but the world would be a much more desperate place without the contributions of believers.

    If there are other areas in which you believe Christians don’t follow Jesus’ teaching, I’d be interested in hearing…

  78. Joe
    November 18th, 2005 @ 3:20 pm

    a quick aside…………Mort, do you have a life and responsibilities? or are you just a shut in?

    just kidding (kinda)

    Let’s flip this discussion a little. Who has more reason for their irrational beliefs? Members of a recognized religion, or members of a cult?

    it all comes down to the fact that you base your entire belief system on a book. A book put together by a group of men who went through many different stories picking and choosing which to include. Then the book goes through innumerable translations.

    You might as well set up your entire belief system on the Odyssey / Illiad.

    I would venture to say that someone who is in a cult (ie new religion in which the founder is actually alive and leading the group) as having a stronger basis for their faith. Your faith is drawn from a book and nothing more.

    Now those of you with faith will claim spiritual transformations or revelations wherein you discovered christ’s love. The problem is none of it would have happened without being born in an area and time where the bible is the most widely read religios text. Chances are if you were born in the middle east, your awakening would have led you to Islam; or in India it would have led to any number of dieties or sects. The simple truth is that religion is a study in demographics. You believe what you believe because of where you were born.

    At least in cults, people usually base their crazy beliefs on personal experience or belief their leader is ‘connected’ to the big guy in the sky, aliens, or whatever. Also, cults by definition go against the regional demographics (unlike members of recognized religions).

    In fact, you base it on a book with as many possible interpretations as their are people to read it. Either god can’t get his ideas across clearly or his writers failed him…………whichever it is, seems to be a poor basis for a belief system.

  79. Lily
    November 18th, 2005 @ 8:11 pm

    You might have a point Joe, if Christianity were a belief system, invented by men. But that’s a lot of ifs and, of course, it isn’t an invention of men.

    It is necessary to draw a big bright line between the way Catholics approach scripture and the way Protestants do. The Protestants “sola scriptura” stance does allow for some weird readings (interpretations). That is a problem for them and most emphatically for outsiders like you.

    Catholics, on the other hand, know that Jesus called the Church into being and made it the guarantor of His teachings. The canon of the Bible, as most of you vaguely know, wasn’t settled for several centuries.

    You wrote: Chances are if you were born in the middle east, your awakening would have led you to Islam; or in India it would have led to any number of dieties or sects. The simple truth is that religion is a study in demographics. You believe what you believe because of where you were born.

    “Of course!” Can you possibly believe that we don’t know that? Of course people will turn to those religions that they know of, that seem to answer their questions/respond to their needs. However, if that is all there were to it, why do people convert? Especially in the face of certain death? (Have you heard what the Iraqi Christians put up with? The Pakistani? The Sudanese? and a host of others.) Christianity has never claimed that other religions are completely false. Only that where their teachings differ from ours, Christianity is right. Even people with no religion at all, believe things that, strictly speaking, cannot be derived rationally and are not contrary to Christianity.

    I hope Mort weighs in. He does a much better job of fleshing out these questions than I can.

  80. Mort Coyle
    November 19th, 2005 @ 3:08 pm

    Lily, you’re very kind…

    Joe, I’m having trouble getting some of my posts in. Sometimes they go and sometimes they get intercepted by the “blog owner” for “further review”. I never know if something I write is going to post or not. Maybe my posts are too long?

    No, I’m not a shut-in, I’m a working professional but I enjoy writing and I love theology. I stumbled upon The Raving Atheist after a couple of people from this board “invaded” and tried to disrupt a Christian board that I occasionally participated in. I’m not a crusader or apologist but I’m continuously struck by the gross misunderstandings of Christianity that I see on this board and it’s hard for me to not try and provide some clarification.

    “…it all comes down to the fact that you base your entire belief system on a book.”

    Actually, that’s incorrect. My entire belief system is based on a relationship with God. By this I mean an *interactive* relationship, where I talk to God and he talks to me. I know that sounds absolutely crazy to you (it did to me too before I was a Christian). My belief system is based on this relationship and the book helps me to better understand who God is and what he wants.

    I’ve thoroughly researched the book (Bible); how it came to be compiled, etc., and I’ve been amazed at the pedigree that it has. If you think about it, the Bible is by far the most intensely scrutinized collection of writings that’s ever existed.
    Over the centuries many, many very smart people have tried to disprove the Bible but no one has yet done it. This is because the more you know about the Bible and how it came to be, the more you come to respect it’s integrity.

    So, no my relationship is not “…drawn from a book and nothing more”, it is drawn from a living relationship, supplemented by a book.

    As far as “many possible interpretations”, you could say that about any piece of literature (or collection of literature in the case of the Bible). Remember that Twilight Zone episode about “How to Serve Man”? Anyway, particularly with sacred scripture, people can and will project their own views onto the text. Your Annotated Skeptics Bible is an extreme example of this.

    But just because people can project other meanings onto a text, doesn’t mean that the text is, by itself, meaningless. It simply means that one’s task is to learn what the text is actually saying, not what we might want it to say. Studying the Bible requires a certain amount of discipline, humility and integrity *but* being a Bible scholar is not a prerequisite to having a relationship with Jesus.

    Typically what you see in a cult is that a charismatic man (or woman) interjects themselves between the people and God, so that a direct relationship with Jesus is replaced by a relationship with the cult leader. Further the cult leader(s) provide the followers with their own crafted interpretations of the Bible (which are usually twisted to support their offbeat doctrines). Followers are discouraged from engaging in their own independent study of the Bible, lest they come to understand what the Bible actually teaches (and thus fall into agreement with the vast majority of Christians past and present).

    God’s ideas come across quite clearly *if* we are willing to put in a little effort to seek them out. But it’s easier to just avoid the questions or let someone else tell us the answers.
    We have the responsibility.

    Lastly, as far as the person born in the Middle-East goes, I believe that all truth is God’s truth and each person is accountable for what they did with the truth that was given them. A person in Iran may never hear about Jesus, but they are immersed in God’s creation. God spoke to my heart long before I ever had any clue as to who Jesus was or had ever read the Bible. My friends in AA have a phrase I really like: “God as we understand Him”. The best anyone can do is to honestly seek God as they understand Him and turn from a life centered on self-gratification or worse, domination and destruction of others. Jesus said, “Seek and you will find”. So, I believe that ultimately, all (or at least most) of mankind will be reconciled to God. The person in Iran will stand face-to-face with Jesus one day and say, “Oh, it’s you!” and Jesus will say “Yeah, it was me all along. Come on in, I’ve got a place for you.”

  • Basic Assumptions

    First, there is a God.

    Continue Reading...

  • Search

  • Quote of the Day

    • Fifty Random Links

      See them all on the links page.

      • No Blogroll Links